5 Keys To Crushing The Cavs

Homecoming brings the Virginia Cavaliers to Tiger Town Saturday for a 12:00 kickoff televised by JP Sports. Virginia, led by head coach Al Groh (18-13 in his third year at UVA), enters the contest Saturday at 4-1 (3-0) on the year and ranked #25 in the country.

Virginia has conference wins over Duke, Wake Forest, and North Carolina on a schedule that is softer at the beginning of the year than what lies ahead for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are 1-1 out of conference with a win over Western Michigan and a loss to South Carolina.

Clemson enters the game Saturday at 3-2 (1-1) on the season and on a two game losing streak to the Al Groh-coached Cavaliers. The last time the Cavs came to Clemson, Billy McMullen caught a touchdown pass with 1 second on the clock to give the Cavaliers a win.

Here are my 5 keys to the Tigers getting a victory over Virginia on Saturday.

Speed Up
The theory of rushing to the line of scrimmage and forcing the defense to show their personnel before backing away to get the play call is sound on it's principal. It gives the Clemson offensive coaches a chance to check into a play that maximizes the percentages of success based on that personnel and alignment.

What defenses are doing now, however, is shifting at the last minute before the snap and negating the advantage that Clemson gains in this current set up.

That is not to say that Clemson should abandon calling the plays at the line of scrimmage. What I am suggesting is that the Tigers need to mix it up. On some plays Charlie needs to take the snap directly upon lining up and running the play regardless of what formation or personnel the defense has. Then, on other plays, Charlie can fake the snap and then look over to the sideline for the play similar to what has been done the last several weeks.

Mixing it up will force the defenses to seriously consider the possibility that Clemson will snap the ball when they first get under center…something that no defense is worrying about now considering the Tigers 100% of the time back away and get the play called from the sideline.

In addition, Clemson seemed to move the ball better later in the game against Maryland when the pace quickened a little…something that may also prove to be an asset this week.

Heisman Or Hype?
I am not here to debate whether Matt Schaub is a good quarterback. He has won me over several times over the past two years. Schaub is completing 74% of his passes this year for 694 yards and 4 touchdowns with 3 interceptions. That averages out to a robust 231.3 yards per game passing.

However, Schaub did not play against South Carolina, arguably the best defense the Cavs have faced to date. Schaub's numbers have been accumulated against Duke, Wake Forest, and North Carolina…not exactly a who's who in terms of defensive prowess.

Schaub is good enough to beat Clemson with his throwing ability, but not without a running game. Schaub has been most successful in his career at Virginia when he has a running game that is deflecting the attention away from him. The Cavailiers don't have overly impressive receivers, with Heath Miller leading the way averaging only 52 yards a game receiving.

The Cavaliers, however, do have very good running backs that can take over a game. Wali Lundy (102.4 yards per game) and Alvin Pearman (56 yards per game) give the Cavs a very good 1-2 punch. Clemson must find a way, much like they did last week against Maryland, to keep Virginia from grinding the ball on the ground. Clemson's goal will be to force Schaub into a situation where he has to make plays consistently, something that he may or may not be able to do against the Clemson defense.

Opportunistic Playmaking
What Clemson has lacked in the 2 losses they have suffered this year is opportunistic playmaking on both sides of the ball. In need of a touchdown on a trick play against Georgia, Duane Coleman's pass back to Charlie Whitehurst was knocked away. Kevin Youngblood's touchdown reception against Maryland was ruled pass interference. Scott McBrien's fumble laid on the ground behind the line of scrimmage for an eternity before a Terp offensive lineman fell on it. Justin Miller has missed several interceptions. The broken record could go on and on.

Clemson is not good enough to beat good teams on days where the Tigers don't make plays. And Clemson can't win Saturday unless they take advantage of opportunities. That means making the interception when the ball hits you in the hands. That means making the tough catch on 3rd and 18 when the Tigers are driving in Virginia territory. That means picking up a fumble and running it for positive yards. And that means getting a first down running the ball in a crucial situation.

Hunt-ing For Dean And Furr?
Probably more than any game so far this season, the Clemson kicking game will hold a big key Saturday afternoon. Virginia's defense, by design, is not going to give up many big plays but will allow the Tigers to move the football if patient.

Unlike Maryland, who bowed up and challenged Clemson on almost every play defensively, Virginia will be content to play umbrella coverage's and refuse to let Clemson's receivers get behind the corners and safeties. That means Clemson will be able to move the chains Saturday and put themselves in position to score. If and when the drives break down in the red zone, points must be put onto the board.

Aaron Hunt continues to struggle statistically (2-6 on the year) but the numbers continue to be deceiving because Hunt is being asked to kick the ball further than he has the leg to consistently make from those distances. Tommy Bowden has hinted that Jad Dean or Stephen Furr may have a chance to kick some of the longer kicks Saturday.

Regardless of who is called upon Saturday, there may be as many as 4 or 5 field goal opportunities that must be taken advantage of if Clemson is to win. If the Tigers can't convert on ALL field goal attempts Saturday, the misses may be the difference in a win or a loss.

Rally In The Valley
The Cavaliers were shaken up by their visit to Columbia. The Gamecock crowd came out loud, and got louder as the game went on. Granted, Matt Schaub was not running the show, and most certainly he would have had a calmer demeanor than Anthony Martinez.

But, the Tigers must seize on what the Terrapins did last week in terms of home field advantage and keep the Cavaliers a little bit off stride. Virginia is still a young team overall, and dating back to last year the Cavaliers have not beaten a team on the road that would be considered "equal" to them in talent. The past year and a half, the Cavaliers road wins have been against Wake Forest, Duke, Western Michigan and North Carolina. In that same time frame, the Cavs have lost to Florida State, Georgia Tech, Penn State, Virginia Tech, and South Carolina.

Even more important than Virginia's struggles against quality teams on the road is the psyche of the Clemson football team. A loud and supportive crowd for the Tigers Saturday may provide enough excitement to pump some life in the Tigers across the board. It's Homecoming, and the Clemson faithful need to pull their weight Saturday and see if the team will respond and pull theirs.

There are a ton of reasons to doubt whether or not Clemson can win Saturday, and I don't need to waste your time detailing every single one of them.

This game is about seizing a moment at the exact right time, something that Clemson has not been able to do the past 2 years. I readily admit that I thought Virginia was going to challenge for the ACC Championship, and quite frankly they have yet to stub their toe in conference and could very well fulfill my prognostication.

But, I also see some cracks in UVA that have not been there the past 2 years…mainly because they don't appear to have a consistent wide receiver. More importantly, they seem to make more mistakes than they have the past 2 years.

I was not as disappointed as many were with the game at Maryland, mainly because I thought we had an off day on offense and still the defense played well enough to keep us in the game. I also saw first hand how close we were to making the big plays to win the game. Will we suffer the same frustrations of not making the plays when we need to Saturday? I don't think so.

I don't expect another bad offensive performance Saturday, especially considering the conservative nature of the Virginia defense. We will pick slowly away at them, all the while gaining more and more confidence.

Our fortunes finally turn Saturday, as the kicking game and defense propels us to a much-needed win.

Rhymer's Pick
Clemson 19 Virginia 17

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